I woke up yesterday morning to a news article on Twitter that was so troubling and indicative of America's street design problems that I had to share it. From FastCo:

When a car plowed into a home in Raleigh, North Carolina, in August, it ran over a small white cross—which was there in remembrance of the last driver who crashed into the house. Since the homeowners moved in in 2004, the house has been hit by cars a total of six times.

The house, which sits at a corner after a sharp curve in a road, is a victim of bad street design. Now a new petition is asking the city to buy the house from the homeowners—who haven't been able to sell it—and move.

This story borders on the absurd. The fact that a house has been hit not once, not twice, but six times is appalling. But what is the government's response to this horrific problem? FastCo reports:

The city put up some new signs.

And then, irony of ironies, one of those signs ended up in this family's living room (those signs are built to be breakaway, remember?). Community members thought their leaders would step up and redesign this death-trap of a road, but they were mistaken:

"Because of all the media coverage, I assumed the city or DOT would surely do something to remedy this problem," says Christine Redshaw, a local business owner, who first heard about the family after the 2015 accident. "How wrong I was. When I saw on the news it happened again in August, I was furious. The city had done nothing between the crash in October and the one in August. They had implemented a few things before the last two crashes, but even they admitted these solutions weren’t working."

Here's what the approach to the house—owned by the Benarte family—looks like. This is New Hope Road. The Benarte house is the white one in the middle of the image:

The yellow arrows (signs the city placed after these terrible car crashes) suggest a speed limit of 35 mph around the curve. Presumably that's lower than the rest of this road, which I'd guess is at least 45+ mph. This is basically a 4-lane divided highway. So why is it running through a residential neighborhood?

This is a direct example of the way that street design can quite literally decrease the value of our places—in this case, property values. When we build a high-speed stroad through a neighborhood, we signal that this is a place to drive through not a place to drive to. We are sending a message to that community that fast car movement is more important than sufficient sidewalks where seniors can walk, more important than porches and gardens where families can spend time together, more important than safe yards where children can play—or in this case, more important than a safe home where a family can live.

Not only that, but consider the multiple deaths that have resulted from this bad street design; blessedly for this family, no one residing in the house has been killed—but several drivers and passengers weren't so lucky.

The Benarte's home. They've erected some walls and fencing to try and protect their home, although that has ended up inside the home on at least one occasion after a car hit it. They are limited in the amount of fencing/walls they can build because they're not permitted to negatively impact visibility for drivers—yet another way this area is utterly auto-oriented. The flowers in the foreground are a memorial for one of the people who died in a car crash at the house.

The Benarte's home. They've erected some walls and fencing to try and protect their home, although that has ended up inside the home on at least one occasion after a car hit it. They are limited in the amount of fencing/walls they can build because they're not permitted to negatively impact visibility for drivers—yet another way this area is utterly auto-oriented. The flowers in the foreground are a memorial for one of the people who died in a car crash at the house.

As FastCo aptly observes:

Simple changes the city has attempted, such as new lights and arrows, can't fix the fundamental flaw of the layout. Streets that are unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists are also unsafe for drivers—four drivers and passengers have died in the six accidents.

Now, I understand why concerned citizens have created a petition asking the city to buy the house—that may be the kindest solution for the family who resides in there. They deserve to be able to move and not live in fear of cars careening into their home day and night, and they're unable to sell the house in this state.

But a real lasting solution that would prevent the needless deaths of future drivers and improve the neighborhood for everyone would be to redesign the stroad completely: New Hope Road should be altered to become either a street—a platform for wealth creation—or a road—a high-speed connection between two places. It looks to me like this is functioning primarily as a road (and, in this case, the name indicates that). With that in mind, access to this high-speed road should be limited to controlled intersections, and barriers should be erected to separate the surrounding residential neighborhoods from the road, as you'd do with any other highway.

We should not have pedestrians walking next to cars traveling 45+ mph. We should not have children playing next to a highway. A failure to acknowledge that that's effectively how this road is functioning, is what led to this whole mess.

If the DOT or city is unwilling to truly turn this into a true highway, at a bare minimum a stoplight should be added to this intersection and the rounded curbs adjusted to be more angular, slowing car speeds. Perhaps a divider could be installed on the residential street that intersects with New Hope Road to further deter speeding. Here's an example of what that might look like (in a Chicago suburb):

But I must admit, hearing so many of these stories has taught me not to get my hopes up that any real changes will be made. If five crashes weren't enough to convince the city that serious design changes are necessary, I'm not sure that six will be.

(All images from Google Maps)


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